By Karen Withem
When someone says pizza, social justice is not usually the first thing that comes to mind. Yet the two have become a couple, thanks to a handful of people led by Nancy and Adrian McKee who live near Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
The Pizza & Social Justice website invites people to “Come for the Pizza, Stay for the Conversation.” And stay they have. The semiweekly dialogues, now entering their ninth year, focus primarily on racial justice. Nancy McKee says it has been designed as a “judgment-free zone,” so people feel comfortable airing their feelings and experiences in order to develop mutual respect and friendship.
These informal gatherings have very recently come under the umbrella of a new, non-profit organization. But they began simply as open house-type dinners and conversation hosted by the couple. “We would spend the evening talking and laughing and solving the problems of the world,” Nancy muses.
A natural topic
The McKees, who met at a Baha’i event not far from where they now live, have been married almost 40 years. Their relationship as an interracial couple made it natural for the topics of racism and social justice to come up, which became ongoing themes of conversation.
“It became especially clear in the 2016 election cycle that we needed to talk about race,” Nancy says.
So the couple hosted a screening of The Long Shadow, a PBS documentary directed by Frances Causey. The filmmaker — a white woman uncomfortable with the entrenched racism in her home state of North Carolina and with slave ownership in her own family history — gave the McKees permission to screen the film.
“We had a lot of help publicizing the event,” Nancy remembers, from the Baha’i community and area churches. A local school allowed them to use the auditorium free of charge. After the screening, the couple led a question-and-answer session. The attendance was around 90 strong, and most of the viewers expressed a desire to participate in follow-up meetings and conversation. Attendance would often swell to 20 or more, and eight of the regulars became a steering committee of sorts.
The conversations can be heavy, so the couple injects their own brand of gentle humor. The pizza is important, because as Adrian jokes, “In the time-honored Baha’i tradition, if you feed them, they will come.” As a web developer, he created and curates their site, searching the Internet each week and adding links to articles and videos that illuminate the subject and spur thought and meaningful dialogue.